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Composers

Marie Jaëll

(1846- 1925)

Marie Jaëll, née Trautmann (1846-1925) was unusual in that she gained success despite coming from provincial Alsace rather than Paris. She studied piano at the Conservatoire with the great virtuoso Henri Herz and gained the premier prix in 1862. In 1855-66 she enjoyed a busy performing career across Europe, her mother acting as her impresario. After her marriage in 1866 to Alfred Jaëll, the couple gave concerts jointly in Europe and Russia. Notably, she was the first French pianist to play all 32 sonatas of Beethoven, at the Salle Pleyel in 1893 and she also prepared a French translation of Brahms’s Requiem.

Following composition lessons with Franck in 1870, Saint-Saëns taught her from 1871; he dedicated his first concerto and the Etude en forme de valse to her. She wrote two piano concertos and her symphonic poem Ossiane for voices and orchestra was performed in Paris in 1879. She was also friends with Liszt, regularly spending time in Weimar from 1882 onwards. After Saint-Saëns responded unfavourably to a monumental piano cycle inspired by Dante which she wrote in 1893-4, she abandoned composition to concentrate on teaching.

Jaëll maintained a scientific interest in the physiology of piano performance, collaborating with Dr Charles Féré to explore the relationship between the physical act of playing the instrument and the mental conception of sound. She presented her ideas in several theoretical volumes.

She wrote works for orchestra, solo piano and chamber, including a string quartet, piano quartet and cello sonata. Her songs seem to date mainly from the 1870s to the 1890s and are distinctive for their successful fusion of French and German style, similar to her contemporary Henri Duparc. Her Bärenlieder (1878) for soprano and orchestra were also published in a voice-piano version; this humorous set exploring the sentimental lives of bears is unique. She was also attracted to exotic topics, resulting in cycles like Les Orientales (1893, text by Victor Hugo). Settings include Baudelaire’s ‘Les Hiboux’ (undated) and Jean Richepin’s ‘La Mer’ (1893). She also set her own texts in her Fünf Lieder, published in 1880 in German, as well as in French with one song eliminated.

Much of Jaëll’s music remains unpublished, with documentation held at the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg. A full catalogue of her works is here: https://www.mariejaell-alsace.com/biblio.htm.

A complete list of her songs is below. Unpublished songs are marked with an asterisk.
 

- Bärenlieder/ La Légende  des Ours.  Six chants humoristiques. 1877-1878.*

- Le Catafalque* (piano and mezzo), undated Pour piano et voix de contralto

- Les Heures* (piano and voice), undated.

- Les Hiboux*

- Fünf Lieder 1880: Dein, Der Sturm, Die Vöglein, Ewige Liebe, Die Wang’ ist blass. ‘Der Sturm’ was excluded from the French edition. 

- La Mer, 1893 (cycle of six songs, ‘Quatre heures du matin’, ‘Causeries de vague’, ‘Les papillons’, ‘Baisers perdus’, ‘En ramant’, ‘Larmes’).

- Orientales (a set of seven songs: Rêverie, Nourmahal la Rousse, Clair de lune, Les tronçons du serpent, Malédiction, Voeu, La voile).


The songs combine well with her piano and chamber music as well as those of older contemporaries such as Liszt. Her unique style shows awareness of advancements in both French and German late Romanticism, as well as a profound and creative understanding of the piano.


© Natasha Loges, 2022

 

Worked with the following poets texts